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"Moshe said, 'So said Hashem, "At about midnight I shall go out in the midst of Egypt"'" (Shemos 11:4).

Rashi brings the words of the Sages who explain that Moshe announced the plague of the smiting of the first-born by saying "at about midnight," which implies near to it, either just before or just after it. He did not say "at midnight," as Hashem actually had declared, because he was afraid that Par'oh's astrologers might err regarding the time when the slaughter of the firstborn actually took place, thinking that it was a little earlier or later than midnight, and, because of their error, they would claim that Moshe is a liar.

Certainly it was not his own honor that caused concern to the humble Moshe. Moshe felt that it was very important that the leader of the Jewish Nation not appear to the Egyptians to be dishonest for that would constitute a chilul Hashem (desecration of Hashem's Name).

My great mentor, HaGaon HaRav Ya'akov Kaminetsky ztvk"l, was famous for his impeccable honesty. Many stories are told about his unyielding defense of the truth, in all situations.

When he was a young man, Reb Ya'akov became the Rabbi of a small resort area in Russia, Tzitivian, Lithuania. In that small village lived an elderly, devout Jew, who was totally dedicated to learning Torah. When Reb Ya'akov's daughters asked him from what the old man survives, he answered, "from letters." This was because he used to send letters to people in America, asking for their support. Satisfied with his lot, he lived on whatever they sent him and rejoiced in the study of the Torah. A short time after Reb Ya'akov become Rov, this older fellow approached him with a shailoh (a practical question in Jewish Law). He had bought some stamps at the post office, and Ivan, the postmaster, had given him too much change. In this tiny village, Ivan was the Policeman, the Judge, the Fireman and the Postmaster, all in one. Although the Torah prohibits stealing intentionally from a non-Jew, we are permitted, and perhaps even commanded, to retain an item which they lost unwittingly. This being the case, it was permitted to keep the extra money which the non-Jew had given him by mistake. Nevertheless, the older man wanted the approval of the young Rabbi of the village.

Reb Ya'akov told him that if it were he, he would return the money. The commentators of the Shulchan Aruch (the Jewish Code of Law) declare that this is permissible in order to make a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem's Name), by demonstrating how honest righteous Jews are. The old man complied with the Rabbi's ruling and returned the money.

After that, Reb Ya'akov noticed that Ivan became quite friendly with him and always showed him honor. When a telegram arrived, informing Reb Ya'akov the sad news that one of his parents had passed away, Ivan delivered it himself, rather than send it with the postman, and conveyed his condolences to the Rabbi.

Reb Ya'akov immigrated to Toronto, together with his family, before the outbreak of World War II. After the Holocaust, he met some survivors from Tzitivian and he asked them to describe the events of the war. They told him horrifying stories of the atrocities that befell his former community whose members were almost all massacred. The only bright side of their story was that Ivan had risked his life to hide some Jews and save them from being murdered with the rest.

In retrospect, Reb Ya'akov suspected that the entire "mistake" in the post office had been an intentional plot by Ivan. He realized that it really didn't make sense otherwise. There were never a lot of people waiting in line there; the pressure of which might have caused Ivan to make a mistake in simple arithmetic. As a matter of fact, he never gave anyone else the wrong amount of change! He was always very careful, knowing full well that in Lithuania, if he were missing money at the end of the day he would have to replace it out of his own pocket.

Reb Ya'akov concluded that Ivan realized that this devout Jew would surely go to ask his Rabbi whether or not to return the extra change. It was Ivan's way of testing the integrity of the new young Rabbi who had just become the religious leader of the Jews of his village. Once he was convinced of Reb Ya'akov's dedication to the truth, Ivan respected him and honored him and his People.

Reb Ya'akov was convinced that it was in the merit of his honesty that Ivan saved Jews from certain death. May we learn to follow in his honorable ways.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel